1 Corinthians 9:24-27 gives one of Paul’s characteristic statements on his concern about being disqualified: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” This was not a one-time concern. With the Church of God in Corinth, Paul found it necessary on multiple occasions to encourage the brethren of Corinth to behave towards them with honor, as they acted as if Paul was not competent to rebuke them for their failings, as it is written in 2 Corinthians 13:1-10: “This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare—since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.” Nor was it only with Corinth that Paul was concerned with the issue of being disqualified, for he wrote to Titus about the brethren in Crete in Titus 1:15-16: “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”
This is a subject I ponder often. As someone who has spoken and written often about God’s ways, I wonder if my own oppressive burden of wicked slanders and grossly evil misunderstandings relating to my own honor and character disqualify me from the good works of service that I wish to do, and which I know I am competent to do based on my own talents and abilities and education. If qualification, in this narrow and technical sense, depends both on abilities and a general and consistent (and if not perfect, at least fully repentant where not perfect) standard of obedience to God, and where even those who may appear disqualified because of the contempt of others may not be disqualified in the eyes of God, then I would certainly be qualified, without question. After all, in order to effectively rebuke someone else for sin , we must not be guilty of that same sin ourselves, lest our moralizing bring ourselves into condemnation as evildoers ourselves. As our world delights in casting off any sort of godly restraint, there is a particular pleasure that our adversary and his minions take in discrediting those who would speak out against corruption because of their own ungodly private conduct.
A perfect example of this is the case of Bill Cosby. For many decades, he has earned a reputation as a public moralist, speaking out against filthy and immoral speech on the part of other comics and entertainers. However, during this entire time he appears to have lived a double life, in which his public image as a family man and as a good husband and an upright and moral individual has been fatally compromised by continual adulteries, and worse, drugging young women and taking advantage of them for his own pleasure. Worse yet, he has admitted on record  to have used sleeping pills on young women to get them to sleep with him, despite having been married since the mid 1960’s. Apparently he has never let a longtime marriage stop his sexual life. I can only wonder what sort of retail therapy his longtime wife engages in to console herself given what must be a continual source of disappointment and unhappiness, for do we not all seek loyalty and fidelity in our relationships?
Whatever happens with regards to various criminal and civil matters, it seems difficult to see how Cosby can recover his reputation. Decades of sanctimonious moral piety, and seeking to be seen as a public figure of honor and integrity have been ruined because of his total lack of restraint in his personal life, his total inability to keep his libido under control. Instead of being a figure of credibility in seeking to present a model of moral probity and excellence of character, his name has become a byword, his character seen as totally lacking in honor. For weeks I have watched the reputation of a man be absolutely destroyed by his own words, and by the damning testimony of others who could not confirm the many allegations against him, but who knew him to be without restraint in his personal life, so that all those who could have been witnesses in his defense only confirmed the general appearance of evil that has fallen upon a once greatly honored man. I have remained silent, in part because I both share the horror of being accused of such wickedness and facing the ruin of one’s ability to be treated with honor and respect, which I value as much as love in my personal life, and because I find the allegations horrifying, as I have long faced the wicked double bind of having refused to gratify my own desires through illicit means while simultaneously being continually and falsely accused of the wickedness I have refused to commit. Both parts of the double bind make this a horrifying case to consider, both given my own prickly concern about my own private honor and public reputation as well as the deep horror of anyone being taken advantage of by others as a survivor of early childhood rape and incest, tormented by the immense wickedness a man is accused of, and also by the realization that there are others who could consider me of the same class of evildoer, something that fills me with great loathing and horror.
How are we to live so that we may be credible and faithful examples of a moral life? How are we to live so that we encourage others to see our way of life as something worthy of honor and respect, not something that they will rejoice in tearing down so that they may silence our censorious ways? How are we to deal with continual threats to our reputation, and preserve our beleaguered honor and integrity so that we may not be disqualified for service or for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven? How are we to answer the criticisms and overcome misunderstandings and unintentional offenses, so that we may not be a cross or a burden that someone has to bear? How do we live so that we may be a blessing to others, and neither torment others nor suffer torment from those around us? To desire what is good is not enough; one must be able to actually accomplish it. May God help us all; we certainly are ever in need of His aid and assistance, for we cannot do it on our own.
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